Even after 26 years, the West Virginia Whitetail Hall of Fame is a corner of the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show that people never seem to tire of. The exhibit features trophy bucks from throughout the Mountain State. Show promoters expect what they call "some head-turning new racks" to be exhibited this year.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Visitors to this year's West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show will immediately notice something different about the setup.
The National Rifle Association, which ordinarily exhibits inside the show, will be set up outside in the Charleston Civic Center lobby. Glen Jarrell, a spokesman for the show's organizers, said NRA officials plan to offer show-goers a deal:
"Anyone who signs up to be an NRA member, or renews a membership, will be given a free pass into the show," Jarrell explained.
Outside of that anomaly, the program for the Jan. 18-20 event - billed as a midwinter "gathering of the clan" for hunting and fishing enthusiasts - is very similar to those of the previous 26 years' worth of shows.
The main attraction, as usual, will be the huge assortment of exhibitors inside the arena. Equipment vendors will show off their newest outdoor gear. Hunting and fishing clubs will try to entice people to join. Government agencies will promote their services. Outfitters will offer hunting and fishing trips to far-flung and exotic locales.
"We have 30 new vendors and outfitters," Jarrell said. "So there will be some new people to meet, new apparel to see, new equipment to try, and new trips to book."
Jarrell said exhibit space has been sold out since the end of September.
"But that's normal for this show," he added. "We usually have a waiting list of exhibitors wanting to get in.
A booth at the show gives an exhibitor access to the 15,000 outdoors enthusiasts who flock to the event each year.
"It's remarkable how steady our attendance has been," Jarrell said. "About the only thing that ever causes a dip in attendance is a big ice storm. Apart from that, the folks always come.
"Those folks spend money, too. They buy clothing and equipment, and they book lots of hunting and fishing trips. It's amazing when you think about it, but we have four outfitters from South Africa at the show this year. They're coming because they know there are people here in Charleston who will book hunting trips with them."
The show's organizers, members of the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association, believe they've put together a mix of elements that brings in people year after year.
One of the main ones is the West Virginia Whitetail Hall of Fame, an exhibit that features dozens of buck trophies from throughout the Mountain State. The lineup changes from year to year, and new trophies get added every year.
Some of those new trophies come from another standing show feature, the free antler-scoring service provided by Division of Natural Resources biologists. Bucks killed more than 60 days prior to the show can be measured and given official Boone and Crockett or Pope and Young scores.
Hunters whose bucks turn out to be high-scoring can walk their trophies around the corner, enter them in the Hall of Fame's big-buck contest, and have the trophy displayed for the duration of the show.
"The rumor on the street is that a lot of big bucks will be brought to this year's show," Jarrell said.
Other attractions include Jan. 19 presentations on coyote hunting by coyote expert Tom Bechdel and on birds of prey by the staff of the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center.
Bechdel will do two presentations, at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The birds-of-prey show, featuring a live bald eagle and other raptors, will begin at noon.
Jarrell said the Division of Natural Resources' Law Enforcement Section will have its "Laser Trailer" on hand for show-goers to try.
"It's a simulator that allows people to experience realistic, almost-live hunting situations in which they will have to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot," he explained. "It's fun for kids and adults alike."
Two auctions of hunting and fishing gear will take place on Jan. 19.
Jarrell said the first one, set for 4 p.m., will be a silent auction. The second one, scheduled for 5 p.m., will be a live auction presented by auctioneer Col. Larry Boggs. There is no cover charge for either auction.
"Folks can register for the auctions at 3:30 p.m.," Jarrell said. "The live auction is a great time. Col. Boggs not only volunteers his time, but he also brings his wife and staff to run it."
Profits from the auction, and from the show in general, will be donated to a variety of sporting and conservation groups. Jarrell said the show has allowed the Trophy Hunters Association to contribute more than $400,000 over the past 15 years.
Admission to the event is $8 for adults and $1 for children age 6 to 12. Children under age 6 get in free.
Show hours are noon to 9 p.m. on Jan. 18, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Jan. 19, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 20.